It’s 8 a.m. and the heat is already beginning to radiate off the asphalt of San Rafael Park. About 200 people – skateboarders, locals and community members - stand behind the walls peering through the chain link fence as Journey volunteers and members from local skate crew San Rafael ExtreMo install the finishing touches on the all-new Luzo Skate Park.
The sight provokes a palpable sense of hope – people from various parts of the globe working together to improve the local community in San Rafael, long since past its heyday. As volunteers work in unison, the language barrier proves non-existent, everyone instinctively gesturing among themselves in an effort to assemble and beautify San Rafael’s first skate park.
From inside Luzo Skate Park, a leading member of San Rafael EXtremo, 19 year-old Rodrigo Jimenez, approaches the volunteers with a radiant smile and a kiss on the cheek. Under his arm, he has the pieces of a weathered balance board – a flat board that sits atop a solid wood cylinder plastered with graphics. After greeting the Journey members, he swiftly flips the oval shaped board and lands squarely on the cylindrical part.
It’s only early morning but the park is already buzzing with a diverse mix of creativity and talent. Brayan Mora, Costa Rica’s national balance board champion, stacks multiple boards and rollers to reach unimaginable heights, while a unicycler sinks the pegs of his wheel into a steep hand rail. This isn’t your average skate park. And it makes the Venice Beach bowl look tame by comparison.
Skate culture in this humble community is thriving like never before. But it’s still overshadowed by San Rafael’s notorious gang violence – something Journey volunteers are hoping to curb with the new recreational pastime at the request of the transformative youth skate crew, San Rafael Extremo. They are using their unique sport to not only change the gang-misconception associated with skateboarding, but also to create a safe place for people to pursue action sports.
Local skater Rodrigo Jimenez says living in a marginalized community makes it difficult for skaters to peacefully hit the streets without being harassed by drug dealers or having their skateboards confiscated by police.
“This skatepark will be an opportunity for us to change the mentality of skateboarding,” Jimenez says. “We are commonly viewed as dangerous or junkies, so we want to get involved to help change that mindset.” Rodrigo hopes the park will serve as a hub for people of all ages in local and surrounding communities to peacefully pursue their passions.
But how’d all this come about? According to Jimenez, it was a coming together of the niche skate community when EXtremo member Luis Diego “Luzo” Zumbado was murdered by drug dealers while trying to protect his neighborhood friends. Luzo was a core member and creator of the group, and he was persistent in his effort to defend local skaters from the inherit dangers of San Rafael.
Establishing a safe place to skate has been a constant challenge for members of EXtremo. Until now, they’ve been limited to the streets and on a daily basis face threats by drug dealers and police harassment, their boards often taken away with no return.
Yara Jackson, a female balance boarder and member of the skate crew, is optimistic that Luzo Skate Park will create a necessary and positive change in the community. “We won’t have to worry about violence and drugs. This will be an opportunity to not only remove kids off of the street, but incentivize those who are interested in the sport to get involved,” she says. “Whether it’s skateboarding, balance boarding or longboarding, it will be a safe space for youths to gather and practice together.”
As word spread about EXtremo’s mission, international organizations quickly jumped to support their cause. Journey, an impact travel collective, joined forces with Divertcity and Glasswing to secure land and organize funding for the skatepark. Journey is known for making a positive impact around Central America by assembling young travelers from different parts of the world to participate in socially-conscious projects.
This particular project is aimed to enhance the action sports scene in Costa Rica by constructing a designated place to skate, while also providing a safe haven for at-risk youth. A cause close to Ryan Sheckler’s heart, the pro skater even offered the support of the Sheckler Foundation and Red Bull to help the project come to fruition.
What’s taking place in this small sector in Costa Rica is a reflection of a larger trend transpiring across the globe. Ruben Villalobos, Luzo’s cousin and a leading member of EXtremo, explains that we are living in a moment where young, socially-conscious members of communities facing adversity feel compelled to take action.
In New York City, the Brujas, an intersectional feminist skate crew, have received national attention on how they are taking activism beyond their local skatepark and into the worlds of fashion, art and politics. Left Wing Futbol – Xicago, a group of Chicago activists are breaking down the social boundaries in soccer by bringing together people who are typically not represented — people of color, queers and trans athletes. Urban activism is also thriving in the UK. The Bristol Bike Project is mobilizing their community by recycling bikes and hosting mechanical workshops. Allowing marginalized and disadvantaged people the independence to move around their city and increasing their chances for employment. It’s a generational movement that is inspiring groups around the world to leverage social media and other tools around them to create positive change.
And as international organizations and local city council members joined forces to support EXtremo’s mission, they immediately began to feel more like valued members the community. It proves to them that their voices do matter. That outsiders are open to accepting skateboarding as a sport, and all skaters should not be classified as “lazy and dangerous”. This is an opportunity for them to not only showcase their talents in a safe space, but to shift the misconception of skateboarding nationwide.
It’s shy of 1 p.m. now and people are crowding every inch of Luzo Skate Park. Volunteers paint vibrant designs on cracked walls as others watch the skateboarding and balance board show hosted by the EXtremo crew. Older, graduated members of EXtremo hang near a large, black mural with their spray cans and respirator masks, peacefully drawing cartoons to illustrate support for their crew and community. No tags here.
More people have gathered around the fence to sneak a peak at their new skate park. You can’t help but get the sense that this may be the biggest thing that has ever happened in the community. Or at least the most positive in a long time if the stand-still traffic, congested sidewalks and visit by the mayor are anything to go by.
From the outside world, it’s just a skate park; a space for people to skate on ramps and rails, and a place to hang out. But for San Rafael and the San Rafael EXtremo, this is an opportunity for skaters and marginalized youths to reclaim their space and disrupt the misconception of skateboarding. It’s the realization of Luzo’s dream.
You can follow their journey here: San Rafael EXtremo